You also wrote in Zero History that terrorism is “almost exclusively about branding but only slightly less so about the psychology of lotteries.” How so?The asymmetry of fighting against terrorists is just as applicable to the asymmetry of recognition. Al'qaeda and other terrorist organisations are often discussed in the same context as major national militaries, as if in reality they are the same size.
If you’re a terrorist (or a national hero, depending on who’s looking at you), there are relatively few of you and relatively a lot of the big guys you’re up against. Terrorism is about branding because a brand is most of what you have as a terrorist. Terrorists have virtually no resources. I don’t even like using the word terrorism. It’s not an accurate descriptor of what’s going on.
What do you think is going on?
Asymmetric warfare, when you’ve got a little guy and a big guy. [There are] a lot of strategies that the little guy uses to go after the big guy, and a lot of them are branding strategies. The little guy needs a brand because that’s basically all he’s got. He’s got very little manpower, very little money compared to the big guy. The big guy’s got a ton of manpower and a ton of money. So this small coterie of plotters decides to go after a nation-state. If they don’t have a strong brand, nothing’s going to happen. From the first atrocity on, the little guy is building his brand. And that’s why somebody phones in after every bomb and says, “It was us, the Situationist Liberation Army. We blew up that mall.” That’s branding...
Did terrorism find the right time to shine because it’s so easy to disseminate your international brand?
Everything about the world we live in today furthers dissemination of brands or any other sort of information. It’s a rich time. Forget terrorism, it’s the age of branding. I’m becoming increasingly unwilling to call it terrorism. It plays into a particularly ignorant sort of rhetoric that is very widespread. If the terrorist can get you to think about what he’s doing as terrorism, you’re already in his win position.
Over at BoingBoing Professor Mike Brown makes a good, and related point, about the attachment of people to Pluto as a planet. He theorises that because images of Pluto almost universally misrepresent the actual size of Pluto, causing people to think its about the same size as Earth or Mars.
Percieved power is power, the more widely you can disseminate your brand the more effective it will be. Its true for businesses and its true for terrorists.